Farewell to a fabulous era

Farewell to a fabulous era

As he walked for one final time with a stump in his hand, as he spoke with a lump in his throat and as he touched the pitch in a mark of respect, everyone’s eyes were moist with tears.

It was tough not to be moved by the occasion. Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement from Test cricket was a poignant moment in a year dotted with exhilarating highs and punctuated by agonising lows.

After a forgettable 2012 when they were humbled at home by England, the year 2013 turned out to be a journey of redemption for Indian cricket. Six series wins in one-day internationals, including the triumph at the Champions Trophy in England, and the 4-0 whitewash of Australia in the Test series at home, a perfect reposte to a similar drubbing Down Under, helped the Indian team restore its lost credibility but the spot-fixing scandal during the Indian Premier League sullied the reputation somewhat.

The fiasco, unearthed towards the end of the last IPL season, was easily the biggest scam to have hit Indian cricket after the match-fixing scandal in 2000. The ugly episode not only left a lingering bad taste in the mouth but also sealed the fate of a few Rajasthan Royals' cricketers, including paceman S Sreesanth. The investigations into these corrupt practices are far from over but the Indian team showed great resilience and fortitude to win the Champions Trophy immediately after the controversy.

The run to their maiden Champions Trophy title, and the last one as the tournament has been shelved by the ICC, was what exactly the doctor had ordered for an ailing Indian cricket team. Not many gave MS Dhoni and his side a chance in supposedly tough conditions of England. But the young Indian team stunned everyone with a brand of cricket that was at once fearless and fascinating. The victory also put Dhoni in an exalted position. While he became the only captain in the world to have won all the major ICC tournaments -- World Cup (2011), World T20 (2007) and Champions Trophy (2013) – India became the only nation other than the West Indies to have won all the three events. 
 
From here onwards began their streak of success in various climes and conditions. From England to West Indies to Zimbabwe (the second-rung team), and also in familiar home environs, the Indian team stacked up six series wins to consolidate its position as the number one-ranked ODI team in the world. The seven-match series against Australia also witnessed the coming of age of Rohit Sharma while Virat Kohli added more lustre to his standing as the finest Indian batsman across all formats with a Richardesque run in one-dayers.

While Rohit became only the third batsman after Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag to score a double ton in one-dayers, Kohli ended the year as the highest run getter in ODIs. Incidentally Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan too topped 1000 runs in one-dayers. Dhawan’s arrival with a smashing century against Australia on his Test debut in Mohali early this year was as stirring a moment for Indian cricket fans as Tendulkar’s moving retirement.     

Even as an emotionally-charged Wankhede crowd, and by extension fans all over the country, reluctantly cut off what had essentially become an inseparable part of their life, they accorded a kind of send-off that left even Tendulkar overwhelmed. There was childlike purity in their affection towards him and an unrehearsed spontaneity in their reaction to his words. Whether at the ground or watching on television, one felt blessed to be part of those proceedings yet there was an undeniable feeling of emptiness within. But the game has to go on and so it did.

The Indian team’s reputation did take a small beating in the three-match ODI series against South Africa, who humbled them with a 2-0 verdict, but it’s their display in the ongoing Test series that has assured every fan that the future of Indian cricket is in safe hands.

With curtains coming down on the most fabled cricketing career in the modern era, the Indian cricket embarked upon a fresh journey. Tendulkar was the last of the golden generation of Indian batting and with his departure doubts were cast on young batsmen’s ability to match the deeds of their predecessor. They were expected to be easy meat to a hungry pack of wolves in the shape of fiery South African pace attack led by Dale Steyn and the drubbing in the preceding one-dayers only reaffirmed those suspicions.

Come the Tests, however, the Indian team showed it was there to give a fight. The likes of Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane have come up with an exhibition of batting that demands respect. One swallow doesn’t a summer make but the signs of a bright future are hard to miss. Irrespective of how the second Test at Kingsmead ends, this young Indian cricket team will return home with its head held high and reputation enhanced.
 

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